Olympian Nova Peris Joins Campaign To 'Free' Aboriginal Flag From Copyright
Olympian and former senator Nova Peris has joined a campaign against restrictions on the use of the Aboriginal flag, speaking to politicians in Canberra to raise awareness.
For decades, the red, yellow and black flag has been a symbol of unity among Indigenous Australians.
It was designed by Luritja artist Harold Thomas, was first flown in 1971, and by 1995 it was accepted by the Commonwealth government as a 'Flag of Australia'.
But in 2018, little-known WAM Clothing was given worldwide exclusive rights to use the flag on clothing, physical media and digital media, after reaching an agreement with Thomas. It is one of three entities given licenses by Thomas to use the flag.
In the months since, the company reportedly issued a series of "cease and desist" notices, targeting a range of companies including the AFL, NRL and Aboriginal-owned business Spark Health.
While anyone can fly the Aboriginal flag, to reproduce it you may need permission and potentially have to pay a fee.
Spark Health Australia launched a petition in June, calling for the licensing agreement around the flag to be scrapped.
"This is not a question of who owns copyright of the Flag," the petition read.
"This is a question of control".
It has since amassed close to 47,000 signatures and some real star power too, with Peris -- fresh from her stint on 'Australian Survivor' -- heading back to federal parliament with the aim of ensuring our politicians understand the effects of these new restrictions.
The former senator presented the petition to a group of Labor politicians on Monday in the hopes it will get the message across.
In a statement provided to Network 10, WAM Clothing contradicted the “untruths” being told about its license.
"We must be clear that we do not hold the exclusive licence for the use of the Aboriginal Flag as a whole," WAM Clothing Company Owner Semele Moore said.
"We have licence agreements around clothing, digital media, physical media and emoji. At no time have we claimed to have the rights for the use as a whole.
"There have been many licence agreements since 1998, and there remains a number of licence agreements with different organisations for different uses of the Aboriginal Flag, nothing has changed around that.
"Where a royalty is payable under our licences is assessed on a case by case basis. For example, permission was granted recently to Indigemoji, without royalty and our full support has been given for them to establish their forthcoming Application.
"Members of the indigenous community have been told untruths about our licence or have misinterpreted what it means for them, often thinking they cannot use the Aboriginal Flag any longer, which is simply not correct.
"It is often the case when we speak to people and organisations and explain our licence, they agree they’ve been misinformed and are comfortable with what our licence is about after explaining it to them.
"There are a lot of attacks on WAM Clothing, however, a lot of which are unjust and due to misinformation about the licences."
For Peris, the flag has been a constant in her life.
"This flag came to life the year I was born," she told ABC radio.
"So much of my life is the flag's life."
She famously had the flag on her sporting gear when she ran at the Commonwealth and Olympic Games. In 2019, that might not have been possible.
"We have to pretty much get down on one knee and beg them to use our flag. We have to pay to use it," Peris said.
"We want equal rights to our flag like other Australians have equal rights to their flag... It was a flag before legal copyright came over the top".
Indigenous Affairs minister Ken Wyatt was quick to rule out the government buying the copyright of the Aboriginal flag from Thomas, but on Tuesday he met with Peris to discuss the situation and the impact that it is having on grassroots people and communities.
Wyatt is in ongoing discussions with the office of shadow minister for Indigenous Australians.
This article has been updated to include comment from WAM Clothing Company.